A woman can get pregnant if a man’s sperm reaches one of her eggs (ova). Contraception tries to stop this happening by keeping the egg and sperm apart or by stopping egg production. One method of contraception is the female condom.
Female condoms are made from thin, soft plastic called polyurethane. Some male condoms are made from this too. Female condoms are worn inside the vagina to prevent semen getting to the womb.
When used correctly, they help to protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. Condoms are the only contraception that protect against pregnancy and STIs.
At a glance: facts about the female condom
If used correctly and consistently, female condoms are 95% effective. This means that 5 out of 100 women using female condoms as contraception will become pregnant in a year. In real world use, about 21 women a year out of 100 who use female condoms become pregnant. This is because people forget to use it or don’t put it in properly (79% effective).
Using female condoms protects against both pregnancy and STIs, including HIV.
A female condom needs to be placed inside the vagina before there's any contact between the vagina and the penis.
Female condoms need to be stored in places that aren't too hot or too cold, and away from sharp or rough surfaces that could tear them or wear them away.
Always use condoms that have the CE mark on the packet. This means they've been tested to European safety standards.
A female condom can get pushed too far into the vagina, but it's easy to remove it yourself.
Female condoms may not be suitable for women who are not comfortable touching their genital area.
Do not use a female condom more than once. If you have sex again, use a new female condom.
How female condoms work
The female condom is worn inside the vagina to stop sperm getting to the womb.
It's important to use condoms correctly, and to make sure the penis doesn't make contact with the vagina before a condom has been put in. This is because semen can come out of the penis before a man has fully ejaculated (come). A female condom can be put in up to 8 hours before sex.
How to use a female condom
- Take the female condom out of the packet, taking care not to tear the condom – do not open the packet with your teeth.
- Squeeze the smaller ring at the closed end of the condom and insert it into the vagina.
- Make sure that the large ring at the open end of the female condom covers the area around the vaginal opening.
- Make sure the penis enters into the female condom, not between the condom and the side of the vagina.
- Remove the female condom immediately after sex by gently pulling it out – you can twist the large ring to prevent semen leaking out.
- Throw the condom away in a bin, not down the toilet.
Who can use female condoms?
Most people can safely use condoms. However, they may not be the most suitable method of contraception for women who do not feel comfortable touching their genital area.
Advantages and disadvantages of female condoms
It's important to consider which form of contraception is right for you and your partner. Take care to use condoms correctly, and consider using other forms of contraception for extra protection.
Advantages of female condoms are:
- they help to protect against many STIs, including HIV
- when used correctly and consistently, condoms are a reliable method of preventing pregnancy
- you only need to use them when you have sex – they do not need advance preparation and are suitable for unplanned sex
- in most cases, there are no medical side effects from using condoms
- they can be inserted up to 8 hours before sex, and mean that women share the responsibility for using condoms with their partner
- any kind of lubricant can be used with female polyurethane condoms
Disadvantages of female condoms are:
- some couples find that putting a condom in can interrupt sex – to get around this, try making using a condom part of foreplay or insert the female condom in advance
- condoms are very strong, but may split or tear if not used properly
- they are not as widely available as male condoms and are more expensive to buy
Can anything make condoms less effective?
Sperm can sometimes get into the vagina during sex, even when using a condom. This may happen if the:
- penis touches the area around the vagina before a condom is put in
- female condom gets pushed too far into the vagina
- man’s penis enters the vagina outside the female condom by mistake
- condom gets damaged by sharp fingernails or jewellery
Although female condoms (when used correctly) offer reliable protection against pregnancy, using an extra method of contraception will protect you against pregnancy if the female condom fails. If a female condom slips or fails, you can use emergency contraception to help to prevent pregnancy.
If you've been at risk of unintended pregnancy, you're also at risk of catching an STI, so have a check-up at a:
- GP practice
- local sexual health clinic
Risks of using a female condom
There are no serious risks associated with using female condoms.
Where can you get female condoms?
Everyone can get condoms for free, even if they are under 16. They are available from the following places in your local area:
- your local free condom service provider
- sexual health clinics
- some GP practices
- some pharmacies
Some places might only offer male condoms. You can ask the staff whether they provide free female condoms.
You can also buy male and female condoms from:
- mail-order catalogues
- vending machines in some public toilets
- some petrol stations
If you buy condoms online, make sure you buy them from a pharmacist or other legitimate retailer. Always choose condoms that carry the European CE mark or British BSI Kitemark as a sign of quality assurance.
Contraception services are free and confidential, including for people under the age of 16.
If you're under 16 and want contraception, the doctor, nurse or pharmacists won't tell your parents (or carer). They'll provide you with contraception as long as they believe you fully understand the information you're given and are able to use the contraception safely.
Doctors and nurses have a responsibility to make sure that you are safe and free from harm. They'll encourage you to consider telling your parents (or carer), but they won't make you. The only time that a professional will not be able to keep confidentiality is if they believe you're at risk of serious harm, such as abuse. If this was the case they would usually discuss it with you first.